mark ovenden


I just got my advance copy of the fully revised new edition of Mark Ovenden’s Transit Maps of the World. Really looking forward to diving into it in more detail, but it looks awesome on a quick read-through.

On a personal note: The blog and I both get a mention in the credits, and one of my unofficial maps makes a little cameo – although it may not be one you immediately think of.

A full review of the book will be up on the blog once I’ve read through it a few times!

Book Review: “Transit Maps of the World”, 2015 Revised Edition by Mark Ovenden

First published in the United Kingdom as Metro Maps of the World in 2003, this book has long been an indispensable reference book for graphic designers, train aficionados, cartographers, and geeks alike. However, its last major revision was in 2007 – and much has changed in the world of transit map design since then. More transit systems, new maps, revised maps, digital and web-based maps, the rise of the amateur map designer and more. Like its predecessors, this book remains very firmly aimed at the illustration and discussion of printed transit maps – digital mapping is only mentioned in passing – but is a more than worthwhile update. 

If you’ve never owned a previous edition, then you’re in for a visual tour de force of maps, maps and more maps. If you do own an older copy of the book (as I do: see the picture above showing the cover of the new edition and the frontispiece of the 2007 version), then this new edition is still highly recommended. Almost every map depicted in the book is new: maps that have been updated since 2007, maps of new systems that didn’t exist back then, even new examples of historical maps for major networks.

The book has also been expanded, with more maps qualifying for “Zone 1″ treatment: an in-depth, multi-page discussion of the history of transit mapping in that particular city. Barcelona, Beijing, Boston, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo and Washington, DC join Berlin, Chicago, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris and Tokyo as the heavyweights of the transit map world, and the discussion is both lively and informative. There’s quite a few maps in this section that I’ve never seen before, and that’s becoming an increasingly rare thing!

Zones 2 and 3 show hundreds of further maps in decreasing detail – some cities only get a quarter-page each, which can strain the eyeballs a bit a times – while Zone 4 provides a comprehensive listing of just about every urban railway network extant in the world at present: almost 1,000 entries all told. A few further maps are dotted throughout this section. This last section does reveal a bit of a lie to the cover’s claim of being “the world’s first collection of every urban train map on Earth” – every system is mentioned, but we certainly don’t see every map. Still, as that would require an impossibly large book, I’ll let it slide.

One addition to this version of the book that I’m overjoyed to see is the inclusion of many unofficial maps produced by talented amateur designers. The modern internet allows such works to be seen, admired and criticized by a global audience through design websites and blogs such as Transit Maps. Indeed, many of the designers featured in the book will already be familiar to readers – Maxwell Roberts, Jug Cerovic, Steve Boland, and even yours truly. Some of these maps are arguably superior to the real thing, while some have actually become official – the MBTA map based off Michael Kvrivishvili’s winning contest entry gets a full page with the dry note, “The geographical distortion of the Green lines is notable.”

Is the book awesome? Yes, it is. Is it perfect? Not quite. 

Apart from the small size of some maps mentioned above, the book could have perhaps benefited from another round of editing. There’s a few typographical and grammatical errors sprinkled throughout (Jug Cerovic’s name gets spelled three different ways, for example), and some image captions aren’t numbered correctly. The reproduction quality of some of the historical maps is a little uneven – a page showing four distinctly different versions of H.C. Beck’s famous Underground Map stands out the most in this regard – but this is perhaps understandable given the variety of sources that the maps come from. 

Overall, the print quality is very high and consistent throughout. The book is printed on quality paper, and – at 176pp plus cover – has a good heft to it. Hopefully, the perfect binding used will stand up to constant use, as I feel I’ll be coming back to this book again and again. 

Our rating: Basically, if you read this blog – even casually – then this book is essential. Some very minor errors do not detract at all from the awesomeness of having all these fantastic maps from all over the world in one superb reference volume. Complements the previous editions rather than repeating them. Four-and-a-half stars.

Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden is available now and can be purchased from Amazon here (affiliate link - buy the book from this link and support the “Transit Maps” blog!).